Case Study: Unsaturated Embankment Failure on Soft Soils

Ghada S. Ellithy, Timothy D. Stark

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper describes the application of unsaturated soil mechanics to an interstate connecting-ramp embankment that failed during construction. Specifically, matric suction is incorporated into the calculation of the tension crack (TC) depth induced by desiccation and strain incompatibility and the contribution of matric suction to embankment shear strength. The results are compared with field observations to assess the viability of unsaturated soil mechanics in modeling compacted embankments in stability analyses. Results from this study suggest that using unsaturated shear strength parameters while introducing a TC in the compacted fill yields a reasonable inverse analysis of this interstate embankment. This may be preferred in slope stability analyses to the current practice of using an undrained shear strength (i.e., cohesion) for the unsaturated compacted fill and including a TC to generate a reasonable factor of safety.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number05020011
JournalJournal of Geotechnical and Geoenvironmental Engineering
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 1 2020


  • Compacted fill
  • Desiccation
  • Inverse analysis
  • Shear strength
  • Slope stability
  • Strain incompatibility
  • Suction
  • Tension crack
  • Unsaturated soil

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Environmental Science
  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology


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